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Sufi Islam


Doctrines The Rifa'iyyah (or "Howling Dervishes") do not have any distinctive doctrines. Their distinctive identity derives from the extreme methods they employ to attain a mystical awareness of God. Rifa'i ritual gatherings are accompanied by the beating of drums and dancing, and by the accomplishment of extraordinary feats of endurance while in a state of ecstasy. Examples of such feats are dancing in fires and eating the flames until they are extinguished, placing a heated iron in the mouth, and piercing the cheeks and other parts of the body without any apparent loss of blood or wounding. Such practices are viewed with great suspicion by mainstream Muslim scholars on the grounds that they are inconsistent with Islamic law and the example of the Prophet.

History The Rifa'iyyah is one of the oldest Sufi orders. It was founded in Basra, Iraq by Ahmad Ibn Ali al-Rifai (d.1182), who was born into an Arab family and who spent the whole of his life in the marshlands of southern Iraq. At the time of al-Rifai the lower Iraq marshlands were inhabited by Jews, Christians, and Mandaeans, as well as older surviving traditions. Al-Rifai knew only a little of Islamic law and mysticism and, to our knowledge, wrote nothing.
From Iraq the Rifa'iyyah spread rapidly into Syria and Egypt. By the fifteenth century it was probably the most widespread of all tariqas. However, from that point it began to decline in popularity. In the nineteenth century the Ottoman authorities prohibited the notorious Rifa'i ceremonies. In spite of this prohibition they remained relatively popular in Turkey, spreading from there into the Balkans and as far as Bosnia.
In 1925, along with other Sufi orders, the Rifa'i was closed down by the new secular government of Turkey. Small communities continue today Yugoslavia and East Africa. Rifa'i orders are active in parts of the Indian subcontinent such as Gujarat, the Daccan, Malabar and Sri Lanka.

Symbols The Rifa'iyyah has no distinct symbol system.

Adherents There are no figures indicating the number of members of the order.

Main Centre
 The order has no headquarters or main centre.